Today, October 11, was National Coming Out Day. In the process of learning more about it, the Longmont Observer contacted OUT Boulder County. Michal Duffy was gracious enough to answer our questions.
What does National Coming Out Day mean for OUT Boulder?
National Coming Out Day is a day that highlights the work that we do all year round. As our name (Out Boulder County) communicates, we envision a world in which all LGBTQ people can be open about who they are. We believe that it is important to be out when it’s safe and possible.
We also recognize that not everyone has the privilege to be out and open about their gender and/or sexual identity. We strive every day to make the world, and specifically Boulder County, a safer place to be out. We celebrate all of our LGBTQ community members, whether or not they are out, and they are all invited to participate in our programming in whatever capacity feels affirming.
People do not have to be LGBTQ or out as LGBTQ in order to be actively involved with Out Boulder County.
What should those in the process of making a decision to come out know?
Folks who are considering coming out should know that they are not alone. We have a vibrant, diverse community that welcomes people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic means, all races, skin colors, ethnicities, all abilities, all professions, and of course, all genders and sexual orientations. That being said, before deciding to come out, it is important for people to consider the impact that decision could have on their lives.
Unfortunately, we do not yet have a world in which everyone who comes out will be celebrated and affirmed in that part of their identity. Every individual’s situation is unique. Youth who are still living at home need to consider how their family and guardians may respond; employees need to consider how their employer may respond.
While we have strong non-discrimination protections in Colorado, that does not mean that discrimination is not present. Individuals should be strategic about how and when to come out. They are welcome to come to the Out Boulder County offices and groups to find peer support. We also offer referrals to therapists and other care providers who can support individuals going through this process. It’s also important to know that not all LGBTQ people fit the stereotypes; there are endless ways of being LGBTQ.
Where can they find the encouragement and support they need to confidently make this decision?
Individuals seeking encouragement and support in their decision and process of coming out can find it in the LGBTQ community. This can mean coming to the Out Boulder County offices, attending groups and events, and finding online community (locally and globally).
Attending LGBTQ events, such as plays and films, can also provide a source of strength and inspiration. For youth, attending a GSA (gay straight alliance or gender & sexuality alliance) meeting will allow them to find peers their age who may have similar experiences or questions.
There are many LGBTQ groups in the area; showing up and finding the right fit can have lasting impact. Identifying a confidant, an ally, to have initial conversations and to attend events and groups with can also help someone make those first steps of getting connected.
Getting connected to LGBTQ resources and peers can provide support and insight for someone’s process of deciding if, when, how, and to whom to come out. Out Boulder County is happy to help individuals find the right fit.
What should be personally considered in the process of making such a decision and how do you know when the time is right for you?
I touched on this in an earlier response and can elaborate further. If someone is not sure if they will be supported when coming out, they may need to consider how their basic needs will be affected if they no longer have the support of their family, guardians, faith community, workplace, or wherever they are considering coming out. It’s estimated that approximately 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. This disproportionate statistic conveys that coming out can have serious repercussions.
LGBTQ individuals also experience discrimination in the workplace and housing. Individuals who want to come out should have a support network in place-whether it’s friends, family members, community members, teachers, counselors, or others. Identify who may or may not be supportive before coming out by mentioning LGBTQ topics and gauge their response. Identify supportive organizations or groups, of course Out Boulder County, but also open and affirming faith communities, supportive therapists, employee resource groups, and the like. Even though the national consciousness around LGBTQ identities and issues is increasing generally, it is still not universally safe for individuals to come out.
Once a person has determined their basic safety and needs, then I would recommend having a support plan. Coming out can be scary and emotionally draining. Take time for self-care and arrange for peer support after coming out to a particular person or in a particular place.
Many people communicate that at some point not being out is no longer a choice because of the affect of being closeted on their mental health. It can be very heavy and hard to be ‘in the closet’ (not out as LGBTQ). Coming out can bring up many emotions, so be prepared for that journey and remind yourself why you are coming out.
Having pride in our LGBTQ identities is a revolutionary act and, I would argue, a necessary one. The time is right when the time is right. Only the individual can determine that.
What else is important to know?
It’s also important to note that not everyone has the luxury of coming out because they are ‘outed’ by others. It is important to respect an individual’s privacy and not reveal someone’s actual or perceived LGBTQ identity without their consent.
Some individuals’ LGBTQ identities are so apparent that others may affix an LGBTQ identity to them before they claim it for themselves. Allow people their own time and space to claim their own identity; don’t take that away from them.
LGBTQ people are everywhere and it is not always apparent based on appearances. Assume there are always LGBTQ people in the room or within earshot. Remember that no one is obligated to come out, or to come out to you, and their reasons are their own; respect privacy. And also respect pride. LGBTQ individuals face oppression and discrimination, and to be proud of one’s self in spite of that has transformative power that cannot be dismissed.
It’s also important to recognize that coming out can be a continual process of self-exploration and identification. As someone explores their identities, gains experience, meets other LGBTQ people, they may come out as different identities. This does not mean it was a “phase”, but rather that it is a process. Language is also a living, breathing thing and terms may come in and out of use as meaning is ascribed and evolves. It is important to honor each individual’s self-identified identity.
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